What is Artificial Intelligence?

January 24, 2018

“I can’t help you with that right now. But I am always learning”

My family has a digital assistant working in our home that is incredibly smart, never takes a break, and never complains about its job. Recently, we purchased a Google Home mini to integrate with other smart products in our home, and my family has found some fun ways to use it, especially with our toddler.

My son is learning different animal sounds, and his favorite sound to make is “moo.” We discovered that our Google Home will make animal noises on command, and he loves to hear its sounds. A few weeks back, we asked our Google Home to make a number of different animal sounds, and it’s response to one that it couldn’t find struck me. “I can’t help you with that right now. But I am always learning.”

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an emerging field of technology defined as non-biological intelligence, where a machine is programmed to accomplish complex goals. Popularly known examples are Google Home, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa. But there are far more advanced AI systems than these being used in a variety of applications, such as business, medicine, and finance.

Recently, a set of videos went viral on the internet from Google’s DeepMind and Boston Dynamics. These AI based systems were doing things that astonished most viewers and even many in the AI field. From an AI teaching itself how to walk and jump without human intervention to a humanoid robot doing back flips and crossing rough terrain, AI systems have become so advanced that many are starting to wonder what these systems will be able to accomplish in the future as they become smarter and human intervention becomes less necessary. This is not a sci-fi fantasy. It’s reality.

Not just fun and games

The term “artificial intelligence” was coined in the 1956 by John McCarthy, who is considered the father of AI. That year he organized the “The Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence,” which was a gathering of experts for brainstorming about the reality of AI. In the last few years, the complexity of these systems has grown faster than most believed possible.

Google’s DeepMind created an AI system called AlphaGo that recently dethroned the reigning Go champion. Go is an ancient abstract strategy board game that is played on 19×19 inch board with black and white stones. The game was created over 2,500 years ago in China and is still played by over 40 million people in 75 different countries. The game is extremely complex even though it has very simple rules. It is believed that there are at least 2 x 10170² possible moves on the game board which leads most players to use their intuition rather than rote memory to win the game.

Prior AI was developed using “expert systems” that had not been able to take on a challenge like the game of Go based on complexity. These systems dealt with facts rather than ideas. Examples are IBM’s Watson and Deep Blue that played chess. They became “experts” for a given problem but were not able to transcend the task they were designed to accomplish, meaning they could not be applied to other tasks.

The AlphaGo project was formed by Google’s DeepMind around 2014 to research the ability of AI systems to use “deep neural networks” for learning rather than expert systems. This type of machine learning was new to the AI field because it was programmed to function similar to a human brain. In March 2016, AlphaGo beat world champion Lee Sedol 4 to 1 in a 5-game match. AlphaGo surpassed all expectations for AI systems and helped show what the future of AI might hold. The possibilities are seemingly limitless for what AI is able to learn to do.

AI and work?

We might be tempted to think that AI systems are sci-fi fun and games, but AI is so much more. One example is how AI systems are revolutionizing our workforce through various types of automation and data processing that leads many AI researchers, government heads, and industry leaders to question how we have thought about the workforce and the role of computer systems. Many jobs previously thought untouchable by machines are now on the brink of being augmented by or replaced completely by AI in the near future.

AI systems are being used to supplement, and in many cases, take over entire factories. An AI system is able to do the jobs of thousands of factory workers while working 24/7 without breaks. These systems are often overseen by a single operator and a few human workers that clean up after the robots. These AI-based factories are producing higher quality products at rates that far exceed that of their human counterparts and are doing all of this cheaper, making the company more money. Many people have been put out of work because of these advanced systems, and the rate of job replacement is projected to continue exponentially as AI continues to learn and grow ever more complex.

Many researchers and developers now proclaim that we have entered the “second machine age” where machines can rival their human counterparts in many areas never thought possible.

The church must be proactive in learning about Artificial Intelligence, as well as participating in the larger discussion about the future of AI research and development.

Expendable humanity?

While a complete AI takeover of society is not imminent, it is very likely that within the next 20-50 years we will see society completely revolutionized by these systems. From the workforce to healthcare and art, the influence of AI is growing at an exponential rate. The church must be proactive in learning about Artificial Intelligence, as well as participating in the larger discussion about the future of AI research and development.

Large groups of AI researchers and technology giants are now gathering to discuss AI safety research and how we want to implement this technology in the future. Most of these discussions revolve around the concept of human dignity in light of the rise of stronger AI systems. Topics range from upgrading humanity with machine components allowing us to live longer or perform tasks outside of basic human ability and strength, to how an AI system is to be treated by society as these systems are beginning to function more autonomously. What role should AI systems have in government, military, and business applications? Do AI systems live under the same type of morality code that we as humans have as a society? Should these machines be treated similar to humans with basic rights if they are able to outperform humans in many tasks or surpass human knowledge?

The church has the ability to be a part of these discussions much earlier than most ethical issues that we have faced in the past, such as the horror of abortion. In the 1970s, many evangelicals did not speak out against abortion and its legalization, yet now are boldly advocating for pro-life legislation and caring for women in crisis pregnancy situations. Today, instead of being reactive to technological trends, we should seek to be proactive in these discussions, proclaiming that human dignity is not based on what we do but on who we are as created in the image of God. AI systems and machines might one day outperform us in every type of task and maybe even replace us in the workplace, but they will never have a soul and will never be able overtake their creators in terms of dignity and worth.

AI is always learning, the question is, how will we respond?

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24